Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!
Although DeKalb County is well-known for its automotive history, there have also been a number of up-and-coming aviators in and around the county. Today, let’s look at two such individuals.
One of Fort Wayne’s pioneer aviators, Art Smith, built an airplane in 1910, using mail-ordered parts, despite having never actually seen a plane in person. Shortly after his first flight, Smith and his fiancée crashed in a field near Auburn while eloping in his airplane to Michigan. Despite their injuries—and with the help of locals—they repaired the plane and continued on to Hillsdale, where they were married in adjacent hospital beds. Smith flew air mail for several years after, until he was killed in a plane crash on February 12, 1926. He was known for his stunt-flying and sky-writing.
Another local pilot was DeKalb County native Dorsie Arthello Likens. Born in Auburn in 1912, Likens grew up in the middle of an automobile industry community, but it seemed that his interests were more inclined toward flight. He worked a variety of jobs—radio operator, store manager, external grinder—before becoming a commercial pilot for the Auburn Rubber Corp. in 1944, and served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol. He was also certified as an aircraft mechanic, ground instructor, and private pilot examiner, and worked as a CAA-licensed flight instructor. Likens also served as DeKalb County sheriff from 1958-66.
To see more, click here and search “John Martin Smith” and “airplane.” You can also check out our Fitzbob Collection—a collection of aerial photos taken by another local aviator, “Wild Bill” Fitzsimmons.